Dead Space..better late than never.

I have a hard time finishing games I start.  It’s not because I don’t enjoy them or I don’t wish to finish them, it’s that there have been so many this last year that have gotten my attention I just can’t seem to find enough time to play them all.

As it stands right now I am currently playing the following on my Xbox, but haven’t finsihed any of them: Grand Theft Auto IV, Assasins Creed II, Batman: Arkham Asylum, CoD Modern Warfare 2, Tiger Woods 2010, Dragon Age Origins, Mass Effect 2 (still in the cellophane), Saints Row 2, and Crackdown (yes, i still play the original Crackdeon).  Most of these I am anywhere from 50-75% done, although I think Grand Theft Auto IV and Saint Rows 2 is way down, but they have such an unforgiving failure structure in missions, I get frustrated if I have to start over so far back because there aren’t any real save points.

It doesn’t help there are also a bevy of games that all have high ratings that all came out or are about to come out as well, that I really want to play, but these $60 price points are just killing me these days.  There’s Red Dead Redemption, Splinter Cell Conviction, Alan Wake, Limbo, Gears of War 2, just to name a few. Oh, and I can honestly say I’m looking forward to two Wii games as well: Epic Mickey, and Kirby: An epic yarn.

All this being said, and realizing I need to get the most bang for my buck these days, I recently saw a preview for Dead Space 2. It looked pretty cool and then that seemed to trigger a lot of memories of all the positive buzz the original Dead Space got back in 2008. The whole action packed, horror/survival genre intrigued me and since I tend to get pwnd by players half my age anymore, the thought of me picking up the original Left 4 Dead and getting lambasted over the headset didn’t sound all that appealing to my ego.

I went to check out Dead Space and learned it is now part of the Xbox line of Platinum Hits, meaning it has a price point of $19.99, or a fraction (34%) of the original price. I went to Game Rankings and Wikipedia (89% favorable rate on average) to get their impressions and I was really surprised to learn that there is such a backstory and supplementary products and lore to support this franchise.

There are prequel comic books, an actual prequel novel “Dead Space: Martyr” (dated even earlier in the timeline of the comics), an anime movie, a Wii rail shooter (Dead Space: Extraction) that takes place days before the events of the original Dead Space game. In short, I love games or franchises that take on a life of their own and a new universe is created around them with so much deep and original content. I now have Dead Space fever and went out to buy both the Platinum Hits version of the game and also the novel, Martyr.

The book, Dead Space Martyr by B.K. Evenson clocks in at 414 pages and is a slightly oversized paperback. I started reading it today and am already enjoying the slow build of events that are taking shape all the way to my current page of 57. I will most likely read a good portion of this book by this week and it reall sits the tone and mood for events that I can only guess so far already took place just prior to the start of the game. So far it appears to me a very smart novel and not hokey schtick, minutae, or shovelware to get a few extra coins and milk this franchise. Already it makes me think of Indiana Jones meets “Abyss” meets the X-Files. Something spooky, mysterious, scientific, paranormal, alien, archeleogical, and conspiritorial all wrapped into one. If I enjoy this novel as well as I think I will, I just may have to buy the 6-issue comic collection and get the anime movie from Netflix to satiate my appetite and round my experience out.

Now about the game itself:  My initial impressions is that it is indeed very fun and a visual treat.  Right from the get go, there is a beautiful cinematic that sets up the initial quandry and within minutes I’m already tense.  This derelict planet cracking ship is quiet….too quiet.  With only the strained voices of my A.I. controlled, yet seperated from me crew members, its clear from teh get go I’m on my own and I need to survive.  From both lighting direction and sound design, my personal mental state is elvated on trying to be alert.  Not only am I being very cautious in my movements as I push the left analog stick forward, while looking all around with my right stick, I’m really trying to use my ears.  Everything makes an isolated sound, and the majority of the sounds are not that of a joyous ice cream truck looking to off load some delicious treats.  Nope, there are thuds, and scampering, and moan, and howls, and shallow breathing, and then nothing.  The silence is deafing, and even though I am on high alert, I am still scarred shitless at times.

The game is broken up into 12 chapters, and although I’ve taking my time (4 hours to complete the first 2 chapters), I have plenty aways to go.

The ship I am on, the USG Ishimura feels gigantic and vast.  I’ve only explored a few sections so far, but I am intrigued and in awe of some of the design and magnitude of the environments.  One minute I feel clausterphobic, pulse welder ready and aimed for discharge, the next I’m in a large mechanical ship bay, or medical lab that also feels too big, as if my sixth sense is telling me I’m not alone in here.

The environs are pretty diverse as well.  I’ve already experience both zero-gravity, and the dead silence of the vacuum of space.  I’ve run down blood stained cooridors, jumped when the lights flickered, and cringed at the sight of medically tampered fetuses in statis tanks.  There’s the sound of flies buzzing near body bags, cryptic blood drawn symbols on the walls, and then there is the occasional audio or video log tape that I find that fills in some blanks or drops a clue on what happened to the crew.  None of it is good.

The voice acting in above average, and the story is rich and tense.  No doubt the novel and anime will even do more to flesh everything out.  There are some criticsims that our protaginist Isaac clarke (an amalgam of Isaac Asimoc and Arthur C, Clarke me thinks) is a bit silent and uninteresting as we really never see his face or hear his thoughts, but in this case, I’m okay with it.  I hadn’t really noticed myself until I read that from other sites, and in no way do I think it affects my game.

Games controls are slightly different from other first person shooters I’ve played up to now, but the online ingame tutorial is both very unique and refreshing.  Once you get the hang of things, the U.I. actually seems very clever and intuitive and now I wonder why more games haven’t taken this approach before.  Here’s to hoping that EA keeps this formula in the sequel with only a few minor tweaks.

Weapons are unique to an extent and I like how they handle upgrade options in the game, either via used power nodes or found schematics.  Isaac’s HUD is really original as well, and really does have a futuristic feeling to it.  My only beef is with the amount of inventory he can carry on early in the game.  He’s very dependant on his plasma welder and thus needs to pick up ammo early on, but the ammo tends to take away from his ‘backpack’ space whcih can be frustrating early on until you get the hang of the game and work on your own personal strategy.  Now that I am starting chapter 3, I think I kinda understand the mechanics a bit better and I can do without as many plamsa clips.  The other weapons are pretty brutal as well, especially the line gun, alhough I’ve yet to buy/try the flamethrower.  You don’t need all these weapons thouugh…there is an achievemnt for completing the game using only the plasma welder which makes me believe the other weapons are for pure mayhem and eye candy value only.  However, that being said, the line gun has saved my ass a few times and I think a much better addition than the pulse rifle.

I don’t want to spoil anymore for you, but the necromorphs (aka bad guys) are downright scary.  While they may seem a bit repetitive (there may be more variety later on), they still seem gruesome in their size, stature, and movement when you do encounter them.  The animations of dismemberment and blood squirts and sounds are visceral to boot.

All in all, a great game, albeit from 2008.  A highly recommended buy for $19.99, and now I’m not sure if I can wait for Dead Space 2 to hit Platinum status in a year from now.  As a budget minded gamer, I may have to splurge at $39 or $29 when it happens.

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Just when you thought WoW gaming gear couldn’t get more geeky

$160 for a new headset?

Yup, the clowns over at Creative think it’s just about time to take your hard earned paper route money for their over the top ‘l33t’ headphones.  And you thought we were in a recession!?!

So what does $160 in dedicated WoW headphones get you other than repelling any chance your gonna get laid by your girlfriend (unless she’s an emo Blood-elf herself)? 

Supposedly you can mod the translucent lens on the earcups in either Alliance or Horde motifs straight out of the box (like anyone cares), and there are LEDs which are programmable in 16 million color combinations via an ingame setup….but then I ask, “Who the hell is gonna see this anyway?”

There is a noice-cancelling mic that is also detachable and the headset itself is wireless and offers THX TruStudio sound and is rechargeable via USB.  There’s even a voice modulation element that can change your ingame voice to sound like various races/factions in the game.  Female Orc?  Male Tauren?  Ultra gay?  Oh, and what about the additional detailing including Frostmourne runes around the earcup?

But $160?  Well, if you have money to burn and you must have, go over to the Creative homepage and get your preorder on now.  Loser.

Star Trek Online – First Impressions Beta (part 2)

Well I sunk an additional three hours into the online beta last night and had an improved experience once I discovered a few more areas and received a few additional ‘looted’ items and visited some areas previously unexplored.

By the time I logged off, I had climbed to level 7 and with a few additional away-team and ship skirmishes under my belt, things began to get a bit smoother and fall into place a bit more.  So like yesterday’s post here is my findings:

  • “Memory Alpha” is not a completed area/zone yet, with many NPC’s standing ‘idle’ until game launch.  Here is were you can and will be able to turn in some of that space ‘loot’ for ship component upgrades.  I was still missing a few pieces to turn in for anything noteworthy, but now I understand the ‘recipe’ and ‘crafting’ component of the game a bit better.
  • Some additional missions afforded me some ingame rewards, and since I’ve found the mix so far to be more ship than ground based missions, I opted for the ship upgrades: 1) I found that any component that can increase your ships turn rate is beneficial.  Being able to rotate more quickly means being able to bare weapons more readily.  2) Proton mines are a better bet than an aft phaser.  3) Found a new wider-arced forward disrupter/phaser.  Even though DPS may be a bit less, a 90 degree firing arc is better than a more powerful 45 degree arced weapon.
  • Visited my bridge again just to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and still can’t figure out what to do with it. (Edit: Went to the forum and looked up ‘bridge’, and most comments and threads were of a similar nature, like basically “WTF do we do with this?”.  That’s a bit disapointing and one can only help but pray that the Dev’s have something up their sleeve further down the line, perhaps in an expansion, or a piece of the game that they are working on, because right now, it’s worthless.
  • Unlocked another bridge officer slot and was rewarded in mission with a new officer of my choice.  Still a bit difficult to understand certain advantages of each race, class, etc. without a manual.
  • Missions were a bit more varied and last night I think the mix improved just a tad to 75% space missions and 25% ground missions.
  • Ground missions are interesting, but away team A.I. and formation can be a bit annoying.  It’s a tad of mass confusion when you away team counterparts are all doing their same thing.  This seems like a hold over concept from City of Villains, and I can tell you CoV does it better so far.
  • I sure hope that ground mission backdrops and tile sets become a bit more varied.  I already have encountered the same ‘props’ at diffrent ground locals.
  • Ground mission animations seem a bit ‘off’.  I’m sure this will get refined later on, but it looks a little odd right now and not 100% that collision detection is spot on.
  • Random space encounters are a bit annoying.  You stop on the overall galaxy map to get your bearing, check out where the next mission is and requirements, and then suddenly the screen is ‘loading’ for a random encounter.  And these usually don’t bode well for the single player.  This has happened to me at least three times now, and each time, the odds are overwhelming against me.  I’m slaughtered within seconds.

Taking this all into account and once again reminding myself this is a ‘Beta’, I’m struggling if I want to play or not.  It was very hard for me to let go of CoH (as a matter of fact I looked at it last night to see two new expansions have been released, but not sure they are enough to get me back in.  It’s hard to let go of a character that I spent so many hours investing in and building up, but towards the end of the game, many of the missions just felt very repetitive, and thus I hadn’t played the game in over six months….and I’m not sure I missed it.)

STO is a fun game and I’d lean to playing it if I hadn’t done the whole CoH thing before.  I hope there are going to be some additional content, variety, exploartion, etc. in the developers future.  As of right now, someone on the boards said it doesn’t feel like Start Trek as we expect it to, but a space naval battle simulator, and I think I agree.  If it were just that, I’d give the game a thumbs up, but once you tack on the Star Trek franchise, your expectations automatically go up and you expect more of that experience, and I’m just not sure you get it.

Last night when I was done, I really began to think if I could get my money back and/or do I want to pay a monthly subscription fee.  I kept thinking that Star Wars: The Old Republic is still over a year away and it was just announced there may be a Fallout MMO under development for beta by the end of the year.  I may play on a trial basis for at least 2-3 months and hope that the dev’s are cooking up some more depth, if not, then my tenure as a Federation Starship Captain may be short.

Personal gaming journal #5

It’s been a really long time since I did any updates on the games I enjoy playing, so I’ll just give a quick synopsis of where I’m getting my feet wet again.  That is to say, I’m going a little retro lately, digging out some of my older 360 games, and even a much older PC game.  Why?  Well, I just can’t justify all the new $60 games these days and I know if I wait around long enough, they’ll eventually drop in price to something a bit more attractive to the pocket.  There are just so many big titles I’d like to get my hands on, but I am definitely discovering that ‘Platinum Hits’ is where it’s at.

  • Was able to pick up Guitar Hero: Aerosmith for $29.99 a few weeks back.  I can’t say I’m a big fan of them, actually, there are a few songs of theirs I don’t like at all, but there are plenty of tolerable ones plus the addition of other artists like Joan Jett and RUN DMC make it palatable and fun.  I’m about 1/2 way done on ‘medium’ difficulty and so far have racked up quite a few gamer points.
  • 1 vs 100 (Xbox Live) – I like trivia, and this beta has been going on way too long lately, but the gameplay is addictive and when it finally goes Live (gold) to win real MS points, I’ll be all over it.  I suck at sports question though, and up until those are being asked, I surprised how well I’m doing against other players.
  • WOW – Taking a break…need to recharge my batteries, but I think the frozen north is calling my name again.
  • CoH/CoV – Also taking a break. 
  • Fallout 3 ‘The Pitt expansion’ – Pretty good expansion with a few neat weapons.  There were some tense moments with the Trogs as they have the ability to seemingly jump out of nowhere and you need to be much more aware of your ammo supply than before.  A nice diversion, but really looking forward to getting ‘Point Lookout’ DLC.
  • Saints Row 2 – Not playing as much as I’d like because of the ‘mature’ content and my daughter hanging around way too much.  Fun little sandbox version of GTA4 I picked up also for $29.99.  Looking forward to playing this again soon.
  • GTA4 – Same as above with the daughter.  Was getting back into it and finally making some progress on the game just to put it back on the shelf until I get some alone time.
  • Brothers In Arms Hell Highway – Played the demo and I really like it.  I may pick this up soon as it’s currently going for $24.99. 
  • Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2010 – Lovin’ it.  I may give this it’s own post soon enough, it warrants it and I’ve barely scratched the surface of the content.  I jumped right into tour/career mode and working my way up.  Wind can be very frustrating to me if it’s over 15 MPH, and some holes just seem very random, but overall it takes me a good hour to play 1 round and I have some nail biting moments and get very excited when I do a fabulous shot, and very hard on myself when I shoot a crappy one.
  • Railroad Tycoon 3 – Totally retro Win 98 game I’m really getting into as well.  Graphics are a little dated at this point, but who doesn’t love playing with trains?  Deserves it’s own post as well.

DJ Hero – First look

DJHeroAs someone who never really grew up on classic rock, heavy metal, punk, or alternative music during the 80’s (I enjoyed more pop and old skool rap), I was quite surprised that I learned to enjoy both the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises.  As a matter of fact, I was a late adopter of music and rythym based games, and it was only when I tried Guitar Hero III at a friends house did I finally buy one for myself and began to jam.  Funny thing is, I’m still not crazy about quite a few of the songs.  My brain has somewhat managed to block out some songs as I am too busy concentrating on the notes tracks and hitting my hammer-on’s and off’s more so than I am listening to the lyrics.  However, I will say I have also learned to appreciate some songs that I never would have never even given a chance to outside the gaming experience.

With that in mind, I always wondered if they would make a game using a turntable and I always had visions in my head what a game may look like if I wanted to experience the music I tend to gravitate towards: Dance, House, Rap, Pop.  Imagine my joy when I first learned that Activision announced DJ Hero.  I began to salivate at the thought of doing my own record scratching and mixing break beats and using a crossfader.

Well finally some details on the the gameplay and peripheral have finally surfaced, and now I’m more excited than ever.  I just hope it translates very well, and not a hack job like Konami’s ill-thought-out ‘Rock Revolution’.  Anyway, here’s what we can look forward to:

  • Over 100 songs have been licensed, allowing DJs to create 70 playable tracks.
  • Songs are a mix of two existing tracks, or mash-ups.
  • The red middle button will add a sample to the mix.
  • Controller features an effects knob to inject additional sounds.
  • Hit the crossfade button at the right time to keep the mix correct while you beat match with the colored buttons.
  • Turntable spins all the way around.  At higher difficulties, scratch sections add to difficulty by requiring you to scratch in certain patterns.
  • “Rewind Meter”, when charged up, will allow a player to spin the record backward to relive and replay favorite sections.
  • “Jukebox mode” allows the game to play itself as background music for parties, where players can drop in randomly and leave as well.

Some of the artists confirmed will be: Beastie Boys, Gorillaz, David Bowie, KRS One, Soul Searchers, The Zombies, Rick James, Nirvana, Herbie Hancock (can you say “Rockit”?), Jurrasic 5, Beck, Blondie, and many more.

The game is schedule for a fall ’09 release.

Army of Two sequel announced

Army of Two 2

Army of Two 2

EA has announced an upcoming sequel to last years co-op bad-boy romp, Army of Two. 

Army of Two: The 40th Day will reunite players with both Salem and Rios this winter (2009) will find our troublesome twosome amid chaotic events in Shanghai. 

Electronic Arts’ Montreal branch is developing the game for XBox 360, PS3 and PSP platforms and promises many new and expansive co-op tag-team manuevers.

I for one am looking forward to this.  While the first game received medicore to slightly good reviews, I found it very fun and action packed playing solo.  Sure, there was some excessive swearing and confusing environments (meaning many skins/textures/props defied both physics and originality), but I’d really classify the game more as an arcade shooter that I would a tactical simulator that is GRAW or CoD series games.

I hope they make it slightly longer, with a few more interactive or destructible environments (ala Mercenaries 2), and easier co-op play.  My friend and I tried co-op a few times and it was fun, though we didn’t get very far due to scheduling conflicts.

G4 to cut back on AOTS and X-Play

Ex-Play?

Ex-Play?

It’s yet another sad bit of news for techies, gamers, and closet geeks like myself alike.

It has been confirmed by the parent company who produces the gamer and techie centric shows over at the G4 network, that both Attack of the Show (AOTS) and X-Play will be restructered yet again, and not for the better.

It wasn’t too long ago it was announced that X-Play was going to double show length, and now it appears the exact opposite will be happening.  X-Play hosting and production staff has been cut, and new weekly episodes will be reduced from five to three.

It isn’t much better over at AOTS either.  Beginning March 2nd, original episodes will also be reduced from five to just four a week.

And since fewer shows will be shot on a weekly basis, G4 did indeed confirm a decrease in staff, but also says that savings resulting from these changes will go directly towards more original programming in 2009.  While G4 claims this is not a budget cut and they remain loyal and dedicated to these core franchises, I beg to differ.

I have personally noticed that X-Play repeats have already been scaled back on a daily basis only to be replaced with other non-gaming and non-tech shows.  If I ever missed an episode of X-Play at 8pm, I could always catch the repeat later in the evening or TiVo it in the wee hours of the morning to enjoy the next day.

All I see now is yet more episodes of Cheaters, Cops, and infomercials….like we need any more of these because they play on about 10 other channels throughout the week or Gremlins hasn’t already been shown 10 times this week.

Remind me again G4 how ‘Cheaters’ fits into Tech/Gaming TV?

It’s really a sad commentary when the only bastion of technically inclined television (and gaming for that matter( can’t even support it’s core demographic any longer, to where there pretty much is no other options left any more.